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Skyping the Minyan

Posted on Nov 8, 2011

By David Lerner, Temple Emunah, Lexington, MA
Adapted from a synagogue bulletin article

The Project:

Avram Reisner's 2001 CJLS teshuvah, "Wired to the Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet," explains that should the technology arise (since Skype had not yet been invented), it would be permissible for someone to join in a daily minyan, and to recite the kaddish (although they would not be counted in the minyan).

Maxine Marcus is a new participant in our minyan. She lives in Amsterdam and works in The Hague, where she serves as a prosecutor of war criminals from the wars in the former Yugoslavia. In recent years, Max has been dealing with the aging of her parents and the cancer that eventually took her mother’s life last fall. My wife, Sharon, was able to be with her during the funeral in New York.

Upon returning, Max discovered that it is not that easy to say Kaddish in Amsterdam. Maxine and I realized that she could participate in our minyan through Skype.

The Project’s Impact:

Strengthening the minyan: It's actually been a very powerful experience, as members of the minyan have gotten to know Maxine, schmoozing with her for a minute or two after minyan over Skype. 

Impacting the general community: It also reverberates outward to people in the community who are not members of our shul who come to minyan, and now even to people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This project enabled someone on the other side of the Atlantic to come and experience the power of God, the power of prayer, the power of community, and the power and support of a nurturing community around sacred occasions and after times of loss.


Ongoing Challenges:

One challenge has been trying to encourage other congregations to invite remote minyan-goers to their minyan without having it adversely impact minyan or attendance. Also, the technology is not always reliable.

DIY (Do-it-Yourself) Tips:

Some pointers for using Skype at a minyan:

  • It is an opportunity for learning -- teach a class on the laws of counting in a minyan (OH 55), or on the Reisner Teshuvah itself
  • Use an ethernet cable rather than WIFI for the strongest connection (if WIFI is the only option, make sure the signal is strong in the chapel/sanctuary)
  • Empower computer-savvy lay leaders to provide tech support

 



A graduate of Columbia College and ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi David Lerner has served as the rabbi of Temple Emunah of Lexington for the last seven years. He brings a unique blend of warmth, outreach, energetic teaching, intellectual rigor and caring for all ages.

Rabbi Lerner serves as the president of the New England Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly. For 2010-2011, he is co-chairing an important Rabbinical Assembly task force: the RA Commission on Keruv, Conversion and Jewish Peoplehood. He is also co-President of the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association and sits on the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. He has written articles for The Jewish Week, Conservative Judaism, JUF News, the Jewish Advocate, and the Chicago Jewish News, and is the founder of clergyagainstbullets.org

Follow @RavLerner on Twitter and on his blog on JewishBoston.com.

Skype, Livestream and Conference Calls

Juan, That's great - livestream sounds like another great option.  THe only downside is that the minyan would not hear that person saying kaddish at that part of the service.  As you can imagine, that was a poweful part of the experience.  We are now looking into setting up conference calls for tefillot and classes for people who are homebound.  KOl tuv, David Lener

Another great resource

I have been doing a similar project with developing communities in Latin America and have found the same positive consequences Rabbi Lerner has mentioned.  However, instead of using Skype, I use Livestream.  Livestream is a free service which broadcasts video and audio freely to over forty users.  The advantages of Livestream over Skype are that it does not require the person on the other end to have a Skype account and it can handle massive amounts of viewers.  The advantages is that there is no two-way interaction aside from chat.  Viewers can comment via chat but not through live voice.  If any colleagues are interested in tinkering with this technology, do not hesitate to contact me. 

Juan Mejía 

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